Oleander Drive apartment project sparks debate over Wilmington's workforce housing

·4 min read
The property at 5026 Oleander Drive is the former site of the Oleander Golf Center in Wilmington, N.C., Friday, October 8, 2021.  East West Partners has submitted plans to the city of Wilmington for an apartment complex to be built on the site. The complex would have nearly 340 units and would also include commercial space.
The property at 5026 Oleander Drive is the former site of the Oleander Golf Center in Wilmington, N.C., Friday, October 8, 2021. East West Partners has submitted plans to the city of Wilmington for an apartment complex to be built on the site. The complex would have nearly 340 units and would also include commercial space.

Plans to bring more than 340 apartments to a former golf driving range along Oleander Drive are moving forward after the Wilmington City Council approved rezoning the site.

The city council unanimously voted on Tuesday to rezone nearly 15 acres of land, located at 5026 Oleander Drive, and to waive a second reading of the rezoning request during their regular meeting Tuesday night.

Project developers East West Partners, the Chapel Hill-based firm that developed River Place in downtown Wilmington, plan to price 10% of the project's proposed 346 units — or roughly 35 units — at 60% of the area median income.

That development plan takes advantage of a standard outlined in Wilmington's newly adopted land development code that eliminates a density cap if at least 10% of the project's units are designated for workforce housing for a period of at least 15 years.

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If developers weren't planning to include workforce housing units, density on the site would be capped at 17 units per acre, but with the exception, the company is planning for a density of 23.3 units per acre.

Lee Perry, a managing partner for East West Partners, told city council members that the increased density will make it easier to finance the project, allowing them to include roughly 90 more units.

“Picking up the additional market rate (apartments) enables the homes that are being built at below cost to be able to be included and to be part of the community,” he said.

In addition to the apartments, plans for the development, called The Range, include 13,760 square feet of commercial space, according to a presentation by Brian Chambers, a planner with the city of Wilmington.

The site is adjacent to the Elks Lodge on Oleander Drive and borders the Municipal Golf Course. It previously served as a driving range for golfers and was eyed by another developer in 2016 for a housing development geared toward college students.

The land is currently owned by the Oleander Company, Inc., according to New Hanover County property records.

The approved rezoning request changed the conditions of the site's zoning designation to allow for the development. The Community Business (Conditional District) zoning approved on Tuesday allows for the specific mixed-use development outlined by East West Partners.

But during Tuesday's meeting, a clarification of the zoning conditions from the developer sparked a discussion about the standards Wilmington can put in place to ensure workforce and market rate housing provide residents with similar amenities.

East West Partners asked to clarify a zoning condition that stated "interior finishes, unit size and equipment within workforce units shall be the same as market rate units."

The property at 5026 Oleander Drive is the former site of the Oleander Golf Center in Wilmington, N.C., Friday, October 8, 2021.  East West Partners has submitted plans to the city of Wilmington for an apartment complex to be built on the site. The complex would have nearly 340 units and would also include commercial space.
The property at 5026 Oleander Drive is the former site of the Oleander Golf Center in Wilmington, N.C., Friday, October 8, 2021. East West Partners has submitted plans to the city of Wilmington for an apartment complex to be built on the site. The complex would have nearly 340 units and would also include commercial space.

While designs and finishes for the project haven't been selected, Perry said, past projects with workforce housing included a variety of unit sizes and finishes.

“In a standard market unit, there could be marble or granite countertops. In a workforce home, it could be laminate or a different product," he said. "There could be different products throughout the different market rate units.”

Council member Neil Anderson said it wasn't the city council's intention to approve a project that would install different finishes in market-rate and workforce units. Council member Kevin Spears said he wanted to ensure workforce units don't have a "Scarlet letter" on them because they differ from market rate units.

After taking a close to 20-minute recess to discuss revising the condition, the city council approved an adjusted condition that states the apartments and their finishes need to be "reasonably comparable to" -- but not necessarily the same as -- each other.

Before reading the revised motion, council member Clifford Barnett said it's important that all housing units in the city of Wilmington meet a certain standard.

“The point we’re making is that we want to make sure that if I walk into this unit and then I walk into another one I don’t go, ‘Oh wow, you got the cheap one,’” he said. “We want to make sure everybody understands that.”

Following the approval of the rezoning, City Attorney John Joye told council members that he plans to meet with planning staff to determine the language of the conditions moving forward.

“We want the workforce housing to be good, decent housing that anyone would be proud to be in but we also understand that there are going to be at least small variations between any finish,” he said.

“We need to work through and put some more elbow grease into this particular condition, that’s clear.”

Reporter Emma Dill can be reached at 910-343-2096 or edill@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: Wilmington apartment, retail project moves ahead along Oleander Drive

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